Charles M. Blow and Alex S. Jones

Charles M. Blow of The New York Times: “Equality for everyone is not only right but is a moral imperative”

October 21, 2014 — Journalist Charles M. Blow, author of the new memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones, discussed his early career in journalism and the development of his distinctive, data-driven columns for The New York Times, which he said are motivated by “passion.”

“I’m writing to make the case that equality for everyone is not only right but is a moral imperative,” Blow said. His topics of focus include social justice and “poverty and how it is lived in America,” while the charts and visualizations that he employs bring “data to that discussion” and help knock down “myths.”

“I think of it being a column about beliefs and behavior and biography — my own biography,” Blow said.

That complex biographical story is the subject of his searing new book about his early life and growth as a young a man struggling with issues of identity. He told a Shorenstein Center audience about his youthful career aspirations, which included being governor of Louisiana and working for the CIA. In fact, it was during his CIA interview and lie-detector test that he first confronted the reality of his childhood sexual abuse, he said.

Ultimately, Blow went on to become, at 24, the youngest department head at The New York Times. He noted that, although many people identify him as the only African-American columnist at the Times, he believes that being the only Southerner is also a crucial influence in terms of perspective.

Asked about his engagement with social media, where he has a wide audience, Blow said he uses Twitter in a range of ways: It functions as a “writer’s notebook” and also as a “crowdsourcing” platform for early editing. Further, “people can help direct you to things you are not thinking about,” he said, citing the Trayvon Martin case.

Article by John Wihbey and photo by Nancy Palmer of the Shorenstein Center.